Parrot is trying to expand the reach of its consumer drone products with two new gadgets now available to buy, the Jumping Sumo and the Rolling Spider. The names are slightly silly, just like the products themselves, which give you a taste of the full drone experience at a fraction of the price, and which are probably best for kids new to the world of smartphone-controlled robots and people who think the AR Drone looks cool but aren’t willing to spend wads of cash to find out.
The new Parrot drones feature designs tailored to their unique purposes – the Jumping Sumo is squat, heavier and features a long ‘tail’ type appendage to facilitate its trademark leaping ability. The Rolling Spider is a quadcopter, like its older sibling the AR Drone, but it’s a fraction of the size, and the spare design lives room for only a small vertical camera that faces downwards and is used for flight stabilization.
Both have casing flourishes that give the devices vaguely animalistic guises, in keeping with their names and the market position Parrot is going for with these bots, and they even come with sticker sets to let you create some additional flare. Both are also designed to make sure that your playing with them won’t overly damage your surroundings, thanks to large rubber wheels on the Jumping Sumo and optional plastic wheel attachments on the Rolling Spider that let it run up walls but also provide a buffer from its small plastic blades.
The Jumping Sumo has a camera that can deliver streaming wide-angle video, albeit at low 640 x 489 resolution and just 15fps to a controlling smartphone or tablet, but neither of these drones is really designed for photography. Instead, their main purpose is fun, and the design decisions made in each case supports a few main functions, including aerial tricks for the Rolling Spider and both vertical and horizontal jumping capabilities for the Jumping Sumo.
Overall, the design decisions that went into both work for the mass-market youth audience they’re going for, but I’m a much bigger fan of them pared down with any stickers removed, and luckily that’s how they come out of the box. The economy of size employed in the Rolling Spider is especially impressive, as the drone can literally sit in the palm of your hand.
If you’re used to using a Parrot drone of any of the AR series, then getting accustomed to the controls and performance of the new models won’t be difficult. Despite their vastly different design and purpose, they still work a lot like their larger siblings. The counterpoint to this is that if you haven’t used Parrot drones for any length of time, getting used to their touchscreen-based controls will definitely take some time, and could involve some frustration.
Parrot’s decision to go with smartphone controls on its series of drones are what set them apart from most remote-controlled competitors, but the on-screen controls are like operating FPS games on touchscreens, which means they’re less responsive than traditional hardware joysticks you might find on a gamepad, and you’re going to experience a lot of ‘meant to do this but did that instead’ when you’re coming to grips with it.
There are differences, too; the Jumping Sumo has 90 degree and 180 degree quick turn options, for instance, instead of a free-form directional virtual pad, and buttons to initiate its jumps, which can be optimized for either vertical height or horizontal distance. You can also pre-program a routine for it to follow in the new Free Flight 3 app Parrot has released for these new drones, which is a nice way to get use out of the drone for beginners without having to master the controls.
The simplified controls have some advantages: it makes it easier to line up the drone for jumping up on ledges or across divides, which is a lot of the fun of the ground-only Jumping Sumo. The live camera helps here, too, despite the low-resolution feed.
As for the Rolling Spider, it’s a lot more like its elder sibling, but has pre-set controls for doing instant loop-de-loops and flips, and it of course is able to fly and scale the walls. The new tricks are nice, but what I like about the Spider is its diminutive size – you can easily use this drone in the house without worrying much about smashing up your surroundings, especially with the wheels attached, and even in small spaces like apartments.
My main complaints with both drones are around battery life. The battery on the Rolling Spider is especially paltry, netting you only 6 minutes of continuous flight while the Sumo gets 20 minutes (flight is battery-intensive.) You can easily swap out battery packs, and use them between both drones, but you need to charge them via micro USB cable in a drone itself, which means they aren’t so easily replaced with a full pack.
The Bottom Line
These toys are great fun for those looking for a novel gadget to get beginners and those on a tight budget interested in drones, but they’re definitely not going to win over the serious enthusiast, and they offer up too many compromises to please demanding users. Overall, the main advantage here is the price tag, since the tricks alone, while enjoyable, will probably only keep you interested for so long before you start itching for something with more range, battery life and aerial photography possibilities.